‘As bad as it gets’: Why what hit Ottawa was worse than the ice storm or the tornadoes

Four huge collapsing steel transmission pylons near Ottawa hint at the scale of the challenge facing crews in the wake of Saturday’s huge storm as they work to restore power for tens of thousands of residents.

These Hydro One towers, or what’s left of them, also prove how strong the high winds that hit the area were and how vulnerable the city’s power grid can be.

They bear witness to a weather event which, according to Bryce Conrad, CEO of Hydro Ottawa, was worse than the 1998 ice storm and the tornadoes that ravaged the region in 2018.

“Those [towers] are supposed to withstand ice load and high winds, and they collapsed like children’s toys,” he said.

While the ice storm 24 years ago blanketed parts of eastern Ontario and toppled towers as well, it was largely a locally rural event, Conrad said, when was asked why Saturday’s storm was worse.

The six tornadoes that swept through the Ottawa-Gatineau region four years ago knocked out the Merivale Transmitter Station and damaged some poles, leaving Barrhaven and other places in the dark. But Conrad said they knew it was just about getting electricity from the provincial grid to light the community.

This storm was different.

“There is not a single square inch of our service territory that has not been negatively impacted by this event,” Conrad said.

“It’s as bad as it gets.”

About 110,000 people are still waiting for the lights to come back on, officials said at a news conference on Monday afternoon.

All available employees and contractors worked around the clock, said Joseph Muglia, manager of system operations and grid automation for Hydro Ottawa. Reinforcements were called in from Kingston, Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area and New Brunswick.

A vehicle is seen among downed power lines and utility poles after a major storm on Merivale Road in Ottawa on Saturday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

They focused on restoring power to critical institutions such as hospitals and the sewage treatment plant, before moving to larger neighborhoods where they can get “the best value for money”, Muglia said. Sunday.

The local and provincial network suffered significant damage, he added.

“This storm, brief as it was, was very destructive.”

Hundreds of broken posts

Hydro Ottawa provided estimates ranging from 160 to 200 broken poles, listing downed trees and damaged infrastructure among other obstacles to restoring power.

Conrad suggested it could take an extra two to four days of around-the-clock work, but even then there will be pockets of homes so damaged that crews won’t risk revitalizing them.

Hydro One is grappling with its own damages. Spokeswoman Tiziana Baccega Rosa said there were an “astonishing” 800 broken poles across Ontario, and counting.

The massive transmission towers now folded as if “made of paper” were part of the system that delivers electricity to Ottawa, she said, before being distributed by the local grid.

“It’s like the highway, it’s like your 400 series,” Baccega Rosa explained. “It moves energy from where it is generated to where it needs to go.”

While they aren’t the only reason the power goes out, they are an important piece of the puzzle, she said.

Baccega Rosa compared building repairs with Lego bricks, explaining that fixing a power outage isn’t as easy as bringing a hydroelectric truck to your house.

Instead, it must be done in order or the teams will work backwards.

“You have to lay the groundwork,” she said. “We have to fix the main lines first, in order to fix the secondary lines, then up to the one you see on your street.”

Hydroelectric infrastructure and downed trees lie on a street in Carleton Place, Ont., on Monday. Hydro One, which covers much of eastern Ontario outside of Ottawa, says it also faces significant challenges getting people back on power. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

No good answer

According to Conrad, as more downed trees are removed in Ottawa, workers are discovering more and more damage.

Even when they are confident the power line is ready to be fed, they are “extremely cautious” and will patrol the area again rather than risk someone dying or starting a fire, he said. declared.

The extent of the damage has led some to suggest there must be a better way to do things, but Conrad said buried lines in Ottawa’s Trend-Arlington were also destroyed by the tornado in 2018.

And, while it’s easy to choose wooden poles, a sturdier and more expensive alternative along Hawthorne Avenue also fell during Saturday’s storm, he noted.

Hydro Ottawa crews are working Sunday to restore power to Ottawa’s Carlington neighborhood after a powerful storm tore through the area the day before. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

“We don’t really know what hit us,” Conrad said. “Anyway, he knocked down 65-foot-tall composite poles.”

When asked what could prevent future massive blackouts in the future, he heaved a sigh.

“I would like to tell you that I have a perfect plan so that this will never happen again,” Conrad said. “I wish I had the right answer. I wouldn’t have to work.”

Helicopter footage shows the aftermath of a storm in Ottawa

Helicopter images show the aftermath of Saturday’s storm in parts of Ontario and Quebec. In Ottawa, tens of thousands of people are still without power.